Two tries from Cathal Forde, his first for the club, helped Connacht to a bonus point win over the Cell C Sharks on a wild night at The Sportsground.
 
On an evening in which the squad knew only five points would do in their quest for playoff rugby, Pete Wilkins’ side duly delivered with Conor Oliver and Tiernan O’Halloran also getting on the try sheet.
 
This was a game dominated by a wind that was strong even by Sportsground standards. With the wind going into the College Road, it was Connacht who enjoyed the advantage in the first half and knew the needed to take a lead of at least 10 to 15 points back into the dressing room.
 
The first quarter saw both sides get to grips with the conditions as Connacht expectedly possession. The breakthrough came from the ever reliant Connacht maul on 20 minutes – the pack shifting the point of focus in the corner to allow Conor Oliver to touch down. The second try and pick of the bunch followed just two minutes later, as Mack Hansen produced a wonderfully executed kick in behind the Sharks’ defence which was gathered by Tom Farrell, who then delivered his trademark offload to Cathal Forde for his first professional try.
 
The third was arguably the most important of the four as a 12 point lead turned into a 19 point lead before the break. With Connacht again deep in the Sharks’ half, the attack produced a well-worked sweeping move which was finished off by Tiernan O’Halloran under the sticks.
 
The second half expected saw the Sharks dominate territory as the winds picked up even further. However Connacht managed to take full advantage of the little possession they had in the Sharks half, and the bonus point try duly arrived on 55 minutes with a charge down from the player of the match Forde.
 
Thankfully for Connacht they had built up a 24 point lead before the Sharks began to start putting points on the scoreboard. The visitors put up two tries in the final quarter, and was very nearly three tries before a late TMO intervention, but Connacht never looked in real danger of coughing up the lead.
 
The win ensures that Andy Friend’s troops heading into the next round of Challenge Cup action with a win, and next up is the visit of Brive to The Sportsground a week from today.

Connacht have been boosted by the return of internationals Finlay Bealham and Mack Hansen for tomorrow’s vital BKT URC meeting with the Cell C Sharks at The Sportsground (k/o 5.15pm).
 
The duo along with Josh Murphy have all recovered from illness, in what are 3 of 9 changes from the side that faced Leinster.
 
Bealham joins an all-new front row of Denis Buckley and Shane Delahunt, while Oisín Dowling comes into the second row alongside the retained Darragh Murray. The back row sees Murphy come in at blindside flanker with Conor Oliver on the opposite flank and Shamus Hurley-Langton at number 8.
 
Kieran Marmion comes back in at scrum-half beside captain Jack Carty, while there’s a start for Cathal Forde at inside centre with Tom Farrell for company. The back three includes Hansen and John Porch on the wings with Tiernan O’Halloran at full-back.
 
Commenting on the team selection, Director of Rugby Andy Friend says:
 
“It doesn’t need repeating how important tomorrow’s fixture is. We’ve put ourselves in a position where every point is crucial in these last seven games, so 4 or 5 points tomorrow is a must.
 
We know what to expect from the Sharks. They bring the physicality that you come to expect from a South African side but they also like to throw the ball around, so it should be an exciting one for the fans.”

 
CONNACHT RUGBY MATCHDAY 23 VS CELL C SHARKS
Saturday 7th January, 17:15 @ The Sportsground

Number/Name/Caps
15. Tiernan O’Halloran (213)
14. John Porch (70)
13. Tom Farrell (88)
12. Cathal Forde (4)
11. Mack Hansen (21)
10. Jack Carty (188) (C)
9. Kieran Marmion (220)
1. Denis Buckley (220)
2. Shane Delahunt (122)
3. Finlay Bealham (182)
4. Oisín Dowling (36)
5. Darragh Murray (3)
6. Josh Murphy (8)
7. Conor Oliver (51)
8. Shamus Hurley-Langton (10)

Replacements
16. Dylan Tierney-Martin (12)
17. Jordan Duggan (31)
18. Dominic Robertson-McCoy (75)
19. Leva Fifita (19)
20. Cian Prendergast (37)
21. Caolin Blade (159)
22. Conor Fitzgerald (60)
23. Byron Ralston (9)

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